Atascadero's Galaxy Theatres now allows alcohol at all screens

The VIP auditorium at Galaxy Theatres in Atascadero is no longer the only area of the theater where patrons can drink alcohol.
The VIP auditorium at Galaxy Theatres in Atascadero is no longer the only area of the theater where patrons can drink alcohol.

Adult audience members at the Galaxy Theatres in Atascadero have a new reason to drink and be merry this month — alcohol is now allowed in all of the cinema’s 10 theaters.

Previously, visitors could only drink at movie showings in two “VIP” theaters, and only when all members of the audience were 21 or older.

Now, guests older than 21 can buy wine and beer at a bar connected to the two theaters and take it into any of the movies playing, even those with younger audience members.

Galaxy Theatres LLC President Frank Rimkus said the change is due to customer demand.

“We had a lot of people saying, ‘Well, gee — we’d like to have a glass of wine or beer and take it into any of the theaters,’ ” Rimkus said. “So what we’re doing is really responding to public demand.”

To prevent underage drinking, Rimkus said all IDs — “whether you are 26 or 96,” — will be checked when ordering at the bar, and ushers will conduct routine theater checks to ensure only those who are old enough are consuming alcohol.

“We’ve been doing this for five years in other locations, and we’ve never really had a problem (with underage drinking),” Rimkus said.

The change does not violate the theater’s alcohol license, which allows the sale of beer and wine in an eating place with minors on the premises as long as the business operates a functional kitchen, and approximately 51 percent of gross receipts come from food sales.

State law did require the theater to gain approval from Alcoholic Beverage Control before changing its license conditions, ABC spokesman John Carr said.

Carr confirmed that Galaxy applied for a modification of its license conditions earlier this year and was approved.

Rimkus said he also had to notify the city of Atascadero about the impending change.

Galaxy Theatres has five other locations in California and seven in Texas, Washington and Nevada, according to its website.

The company is building a new location in Fresno, which would have an alcohol policy similar to Atascadero’s.

Because of community concerns, the Fresno City Council gave that theater a one-year trial period to see if the policy leads to increased instances of underage drinking or other safety problems.

Dinner and a movie

Serving alcohol isn’t a new trend for movie theaters, said Patrick Corcoran, vice president and chief communications officer for the National Association of Theater Owners. It’s all about attracting that elusive adult ticket buyer and capturing revenue, he said.

“You know about the traditional movie and a dinner date,” Corcoran said. “Well this is a way to capture that dinner revenue before it even goes out the door.”

Corcoran said approximately 500 theaters across the United States serve alcohol in some capacity, with most concentrated in the Northeast and Texas.

At each of these, community members expressed concerns about safety and underage drinking, Corcoran said — concerns that each theater deals with in different ways.

Some only allow alcohol when no minors are present, whether by allowing drinking at special “over-21 screenings” like Galaxy formerly did or becoming an adults-only theater after a certain hour.

Others allow minors on the premises, and instead adopt methods of identifying legal drinkers with wristbands or special passes. At these theaters, ushers conduct routine checks at each of the screenings to ensure that no underage drinking is going on.

While most theaters began serving alcohol under the first “no-minors” model, Corcoran said many are exploring the latter option because of its flexibility.

“It really varies on the market, but I predict in the next few years we’re just going to see more and more of these,” Corcoran said.